I. Psalm 97 - "The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice" 05:42
II. Meditation and Aria - "God and Father" 04:42
IV. "Why do we deal treacherously?" 03:28
VI. "O Lord, How Can We Know Thee?" 05:36
VII. Sh'ma Yisrael 02:45
VIII. "Thou shalt love the Lord" 07:16

Liner Notes

Commissioned in 1976 by the Great Neck Choral Society (New York) in honor of the American Bicentennial, Zaimont’s Sacred Service for the Sabbath Evening is, despite its title, primarily a concert work rather than an actual synagogue worship service. It is a cohesive, astutely arched, and musically integrated series of sixteen artistic settings—mostly of English prose or quasi-poetic texts taken from the Union Prayerbook for Jewish Worship. As the creation and publication of the rabbinical organ of the American Reform movement (the Central Conference of American Rabbis), this was—for much of the 20th century, until at least the 1980s—the preponderant prayerbook of Reform congregations in the United States.

Quite a few 20th-century composers—including some of the most recognizable names in the classical music world (Ernest Bloch, Darius Milhaud, David Diamond, and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, to cite only a few)—have created sophisticated artistic settings of Sabbath services, with a view toward blurring the distinction between functional prayer experience and concert-oriented expression. Indeed, some of these works have succeeded admirably within both formats: as formal worship, particularly at unconventional services or celebrations in modern or progressive nonorthodox congregations that were receptive to the notion of expanding liturgical aesthetics in the context of Western musical perspectives; and, independently, on the concert stage. Zaimont’s work, however, which is based largely on texts that fall outside the liturgy per se, appears to transcend the functional boundaries of synagogue ritual altogether. By turns dramatic and meditative in its reflection of the various moods suggested by the words, it relates to its texts as poetry and poetic prose that—in keeping with the spirit and worldview embraced by the authors of the Union Prayerbook itself—can resonate on universal planes.

Three choral numbers that were extracted from the work and issued separately in folio publications are suitable for rendition within worship services. These have in fact been performed widely—in synagogues as well as concert venues, and even in Christian churches. Yet apart from these individual pieces, thissacred serviceis, in its entirety, essentially a religiously oriented—but extra-liturgical—extended cantata for baritone solo, mixed chorus, and symphony orchestra.

The texts selected by the composer comprise liberal English translations and paraphrases of Hebrew prayers, as well as original meditative, supplicatory, or inspirational English readings that were intended by the Union Prayerbook’s authors for spoken delivery from the pulpit by the rabbi or other ministerial officiant, or for responsorial articulation between reader and congregation. Those para-liturgical readings were in turn based loosely on—or drawn from—traditional liturgical and biblical passages and sentiments, which were often recast to resonate with contemporary sensibilities, aesthetics, and concerns. Although the aggregate American Reform musical literature contains numerous practical settings of actual prayer texts and hymns in English versions, dating as far back as the 19th century, Zaimont was probably the first composer to intuit artistic possibilities in the eloquent language of those supplementary oratorical readings and to set them musically as oratorio-like arias, ariosos, accompanied recitatives, and contrapuntal choral pieces. The original Hebrew of the most familiar succinct liturgical or biblical pronouncements is maintained—followed by the English versions—in only a few instances in the score.

In their effort to streamline and abbreviate the liturgy for Sabbath services, as well as to provide week-to-week variety within the new format, the editors of the Union Prayerbook divided the Sabbath eve section (which also incorporates excerpted elements of the traditionally separate preliminary kabbalat shabbat—“welcoming the Sabbath”—liturgy) into five distinct alternative services. Each service was based on extracted elements of the traditional liturgy, albeit often abridged or reordered, surrounded by the newly fashioned English readings. Congregations were then able to select one of those services for any particular Sabbath. Zaimont based her work on the third such Sabbath eve service as it appeared in the 1947 edition.

The sixteen movements of Zaimont’s Sacred Service appear in three large sections of five pieces each, with an epilogue following Part Three. Parts One and Two exhibit a dramatic approach, each concluding with an impressive choral movement. Part Three (not represented in the recorded excerpts here) has a more sustained, meditative character. Throughout the work, the chorus, which is never relegated to an accompanying role, functions as an equal partner with the baritone solo. Textural variety is provided by occasional alternation between full chorus and a double quartet of choral soloists.

Part One
I. The opening choral movement of the service, The Lord Reigneth, is the Union Prayerbook’s English version of Psalm 97. Also commonly known by its Hebrew incipit, adonai malakh, it is the third Psalm at the beginning of the traditional kabbalat shabbat liturgy. But in the third alternate Sabbath eve service in the Union Prayerbook, it is the introductory Psalm. The principal musical motive of this setting serves as a kind of leitmotif, which recurs in the concluding passages of all three parts of the work.

II. God and Father, a baritone solo recitative, is a setting of the English reading that follows Psalm 97 in the Union Prayerbook. Although this text is not liturgy per se, its content is a pastiche of Sabbath-related thoughts and noble sentiments that touch upon ethical obligations and social conscience.

IV. Why Do We Deal Treacherously? This setting is drawn from the English responsive reading in the Union Prayerbook that, in its third Sabbath eve service, serves as a preamble to the proclamation of worship with which the principal liturgy of all prayer services commences: bar’khu et adonai ham’vorakh (Worship the Lord to whom all worship is due). The alternation between baritone solo and choir reflects that between the reader and the congregation in the responsorial format of the text, which incorporates biblical verses. Jazzlike syncopations give the setting an agitated quality, reinforced by the choral repetition of the question posed by the opening line. Effective shouts and whispers in the choir are punctuated by the soloist’s gentle but firm response.

Part Two
VI. The opening movement of the second section begins with this meditation, introduced by the words O Lord, How Can We Know Thee? This da capo aria is a setting of the English reading in the Union Prayerbook that serves as a prelude to the pronouncement of Judaism’s central creed of monotheism, sh’ma yisra’el adonai eloheinu adonai eḥ ad (Listen, Israel! Adonai—the Lord—is our God; the Lord is the only God—His unity is His essence).

This proclamation of God’s eternal oneness and universality, together with its continuing paragraph that affirms the requirement of unequivocal devotion to God, constitutes the first of three biblical passages that are known collectively as k’ri’at sh’ma (the reading or pronouncement of sh’ma...). As a unit, these three passages form the oldest and most essential part of the Hebrew liturgy (Deuteronomy 6:4–9; 11:13–21; and Numbers 15:37–41). It is the core of every morning and evening prayer service, and its recitation is obligatory for all adult Jews—more so than any other prayer text.

VII. This second movement of Part Two contains the actual sung pronouncement of the opening statement of k’ri’at sh’ma (sh’ma yisra’el)—first in its familiar Hebrew, and then according to the standard translation found in most American prayerbooks. (The more probing and meaningful translation by Rabbi Morton M. Leifman, above, avoids the ambiguity and hollowness of the phrase “The Lord is One” and more accurately captures the significance and implication of the statement.) This is followed here by the nonbiblical response, barukh shem k’vod malkhuto l’olam va’ed (Worshiped be His Name whose glorious kingdom is forever and unto all time)—a liturgical formula that is nonetheless biblically based (Nehemiah 9:5).

Talmudic sources (Tosef.Ber. 7:22) assert that the response barukh shem...was employed daily in connection with the blessings pronounced by the priests in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem—in the manner of, or in place of, “amen.” And on Yom Kippur, the priests and others who stood in the Temple court are said to have uttered this phrase upon hearing the tetragram of God’s Name—the pronouncement of which was forbidden at all other times and by all but the High Priest, who articulated it annually in his public confessions on that holiest and most solemn of days. (Since the destruction of the Second Temple resulted in the suspension of the priestly ritual, the tetragram is therefore prohibited altogether by anyone, at any time, and under any circumstances.)

It is only in the Reform worship format that this response (barukh shem...) is sung or said aloud at all services throughout the year. In traditional worship, except for Yom Kippur, it is uttered only in an undertone or whisper—which distinguishes it from the actual biblical verses. (Another suggested rationale for the establishment of this custom in the development of the liturgy is the deliberate differentiation from Temple practice in memory of its destruction, and there are also various midrashic explanations rooted in biblically related mythical lore and legend.) Only on Yom Kippur is barukh shem recited or sung aloud as part of k’ri’at sh’ma, just as other parts of the Temple ritual are reenacted on the Day of Atonement. In traditional practice of the Ashkenazi rite, this formula is also pronounced aloud three times at the close of the concluding service of Yom Kippur (n’ila)—a custom that has been explained both as a final, resolute affirmation of faith following the day of intense self- examination and renewal, and as a declaration of optimism for the ultimate universal embrace of God’s eternal and exclusive sovereignty.

At the end of the 19th century, however, the authors of the Union Prayerbook felt neither historically nor theologicially bound by the issues of ancient Temple ritual in this case. Nor were they constrained by liturgical custom (even though their revisions and reforms, no matter how liberal, were usually grounded in tradition). Their new format, some of which also drew on features of earlier American Reform-oriented prayerbooks, established the vocal rendition of the barukh shem response as standard practice for all services of the Reform movement in America. Virtually all musical settings of sh’ma yisra’el for Reform services—Sabbath, Festival, and Rosh Hashana as well as Yom Kippur—have therefore included it as an integral part of those compositions.

The composer has used the most ubiquitous American congregational tune for the opening proclamation, sh’ma yisra’el, with subtle rhythmic alterations. (The tune, whose origin is unknown, is often erroneously attributed to the great 19th-century cantor and composer Salomon Sulzer, for which there is no basis apart from a similar three-tone melodic incipit and a cadential cliché (mediant-supertonic-tonic, with an implied V-I progression, which could apply to thousands of Western-type tunes). The tune—or, more accurately, the reference to the tune—is given mildly abrasive and rhythmically emphatic context, and the tension is heightened by the modal alteration in the choral repetition of the Hebrew. Further original development and extension accompany the sung Hebrew translation in an interplay between the baritone soloist and the choir.

VIII. This movement is the continuation of the first of the three sections of k’ri’at sh’ma in English translation (“Thou Shalt Love the Lord Thy God ...”), as it appears in abbreviated form in the Union Prayerbook. At its conclusion, Zaimont’s setting adds the opening line (also in English translation) of a separate prayer, the traditional post–k’ri’at sh’ma prayer and benediction: “Eternal truth it is that Thou alone art God and there is none else” (emet ve’emuna...), even though those words would normally be the beginning of an independent setting. While the Union Prayerbook’s exclusively English version and paraphrase of this post–k’ri’at sh’ma prayer is given as a responsorial reading, creatively infused with extraneous biblical verses and ethical and moral sentiments, it does retain that original opening line.

This setting’s gently flowing and simple melody stands in contrast to the dramatic forcefulness of the preceding movement and its hints of dissonance. It builds gradually in intensity, with choral and solo repetitions of the opening words; and it concludes with grandeur to the vehement reiteration of the words “There is none else” (i.e., there is no other God).

By: Neil W. Levin



Sung in English


The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitudes of isles be glad. Clouds and darkness are around Him; righteousness and justice are the foundations of His throne. The heavens declare His righteousness, let the earth rejoice, and all the peoples behold His glory. Zion heareth and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice; because of Thy judgments, O Lord. O ye that love the Lord, hate evil. He preserveth the souls of His saints; He delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked. Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart. Be glad in the Lord, ye righteous; and give thanks to His holy Name.


God and Father, we have entered Thy sanctuary on this Sabbath to hallow Thy Name and to offer unto Thee prayers of thanksgiving. The week of toil is ended, the day of rest is come. Thou, Creator of all, has given us the blessing of labor, so that by our work we may fashion things of use and beauty. May the fruit of our labor be acceptable unto Thee. May each new Sabbath find us going from strength to strength, so that by Thy grace we may be helped to an even
worthier work. Make us conscious of our obligation to Thee and of opportunities for service which Thou hast put within our reach. Help us to use our powers for the betterment of our fellowmen so that Thy children may be gladdened by the work of our hands, God and Father.


Why do we deal treacherously brother against brother?
Why do we deal treacherously—why do we, why?
Seek good, not evil, that ye may live.


O Lord, how can we know Thee? Where can we find Thee, O Lord? Thou art as close to us as breathing and yet art farther than the farthermost star. Thou art mysterious as the vast solitudes of the night and yet familiar as the sun. Lord, O Lord, how can we know Thee? Where can we find Thee, O Lord? Thou livest within our hearts, as Thou dost pervade the world, and we through righteousness behold Thy presence. We behold Thy presence.

Sung in Hebrew and English

Sh’ma yisra’el adonai eloheinu adonai eḥad
Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Barukh shem k’vod malkhuto l’olam va’ed
Praised be His Name whose glorious kingdom is forever and evermore.


Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart. Thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt speak of them when thou sittest  in thy house, when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. Thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be between thine eyes. Thou shalt write them upon the doorposts of thy house and upon thy gates. That ye may remember and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God.

Eternal truth it is that Thou alone art God and there is none else.




Composer: Judith Zaimont

Length: 29:43
Genre: Liturgical

Performers: Ernst Senff ChoirJames Maddalena, Baritone;  Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester BerlinGerard Schwarz, Conductor

Date Recorded: 04/01/2000
Venue: Jesus Christus Kirche (G), Berlin, Germany
Engineer: Thaon, Henri
Assistant Engineer: Beyer, Susanne
Assistant Engineer: Nehls, Wolfram
Project Manager: Schwendener, Paul

Additional Credits:

Publisher: Galaxy Music


Don't miss our latest releases, podcasts, announcements and giveaways throughout the year! Stay up to date with our newsletter.

{{msToTime(currentPosition)}} / {{msToTime(duration)}}